This will be the final article in my series on press (no cheering, please). I have already written an introductory article, two articles on white partial press, and one article on white broadcast press. This final article deals with one of the most interesting types of press in judge games, grey broadcast only. As a quick review, grey press means that the sender of the press is not revealed, and broadcast only press means that everyone in the game reads every piece of press sent. Combining these two features leads to some very interesting and intense game play.
A grey broadcast press game has the potential to be very different from a white broadcast press game and to be much more exciting than a grey partial game. The reason for this is what happens when anonymity and broadcast press are combined. In grey broadcast games it is possible for players to usurp each other's identities and create a large number of different characters. The wonderful thing about grey broadcast is that no one knows exactly who is writing the press. The saber-rattling German Kaiser may in fact be the sly English PM looking to foment a Franco-German war. The impartial observer may be a puppet personality of one of the players trying to subliminally influence his opposition. One would think that this kind of excitement would carry into grey, partial games, but from everything I've seen and heard it does not. The reason for this is that because players can talk privately, the usually set up a complex system of passwords and phrases to identify themselves to others. Hence for all practical purpose -GP- games often revert to simple W-P- games in all but name.
By now you may be screaming in disgust, "But Tim, if you are spending most of your time on your main character, you don't have much of an opportunity to develop convincing fakes." You are right in one sense, but wrong in the other. The optimal "fake personality" often does not try to imitate another power, but an observer. It is possible for personalities to be "burned" if they fake other nations (I discus how to do this later in the article), so this is not a good idea. It is true that having a personality "burned" does not really hurt, but it does not help your cause, either. The reason for this is that a personality is only believable if it is established at the start of a game. No one will believe that a new player or observer showed up in 1906 and started sending broadcasts (unless, of course, there is a replacement or they got a message that a new observer signed on). Hence, once a personality is "burned," it's gone and it is very hard to create a new one. In addition, you can use a wider range of diplomatic approaches with an observer. Powers often negotiate in set patterns (requesting alliances, negotiating DMZ's, etc.) Observers, though, react differently. They are cool and analytical whereas most players are irascible and reactive. Rob Addison pointed out a good way to use this in the following letter:
In grey broadcast game "Brewer", a Shift_Left game on USEF, I took advantage of the grey setting to successfully developed two personalities: "Ferdinand," Archduke of Austria; and "The Wanderer", asupposed "observer" who constantly made predictions and passed judgment on most moves and all players.Rob is very correct here, and this teaches a very important lesson about grey broadcast games. That is to scrutinize every message, for even the most innocent one could have a hidden agenda. Think about who the message supports or attacks, and who gains the most benefit from this.
Ferdinand was calm and genteel, never promising much to his allies, always ready with a polished excuse if a promised support or move "fell through." The Wanderer was grating and crass, always ready to point out flaws in people's plans and encourage disruptions between allies. Most players (maybe all of them?) in Brewer expressed surprise when the game ended and they found out that Ferdinand and the Wanderer were one and the same.
I think the dual persona worked because I also let the Wanderer poke fun at Ferdinand and even try to encourage others not to trust him. It seemed the more the Wanderer tried to make Ferdinand look like a potential stabber, it made Ferdinand look that much more reliable when he didn't stab. When the time came for Austria to produce a real stab, Turkey had been lulled into such a false sense of security that he walked right into it. I ended up in a three-way draw with Germany and Italy.
None of this "Wanderer" business could have been carried off in a WG or WGP game, I don't think. Not enough credence would have been given to the Wanderer's grey press. I find that grey broadcasts are largely ignored by players in WG games, passed over as snipes or jokes; but that all messages in grey broadcast games have to be given a certain amount of weight, no matter who the sender identifies himself as.
As I have previously advocated, the trick for survival is to stay out of any board-wide fracases. In year one I look more at the moves than the press being sent, as it is often hard to determine what is real and what is not. I try to pick out the best tactician from my neighbors. I also figure out who has not picked up an obvious allies in the course of the first year. Using this information, I can then pick my first ally and my first target. I look for a solid tactician to ally with against a power who does not have many friends. The initial centers from this attack should get me rolling.
I realize that picking the best tactician from the opening moves is a tough task, so I can not be too stringent. Basically, I look for a solid player I feel I can work with. In addition, if there is a player among my possible targets that I fear due to aggressive play or a strong commitment to wipe me out, I would attempt to find the most natural player to ally with against him. In short, your immediate goal in a grey broadcast game should be to survive into the mid-game with enough centers to be a major player. From there, the game should quiet down to some extent and decisions become somewhat more straightforward, even if more critical.
Sometimes, though, fakers act and behave just like regular powers, and when you adopt your false persona, you should be careful to do the same. These are harder to detect. Indeed, one of the most fun things about grey broadcast press is that you're never sure who is real and who is not. Your best guess, when confronted with two equally plausible personalities, is to negotiate with the country they claim to represent, not the personalities. What I mean by this is direct proposals to the country. See which leader snaps on them, and decide if that's what you would do if you were playing that power. You can also send out a false proposal that would hurt the power in question. If one of the purported leaders goes for it, you can be reasonably well convinced he's a fake. Note that this works well only for powers adjacent to yourself. For distant powers, it's best not to even try to find out at first, and let the situation on the board reveal which personality is the speaker of truth.
There is nothing more frustrating in a grey broadcast game than being faked yourself. Fortunately, there is a reasonably foolproof way to get rid of any fakers by 1902. The trick to this is that, while fakers may pretend to be you, you have control over your units. If you are stuck with a persistent faker, find a unit that does not have to move or offer vital support in the upcoming move, and broadcast your intention to hold it, offer some weird support, or do something else that your faker has not offered to do with it. This trick works better with fleets, as you can use them to do weird convoys. This action will make it clear to everyone else that you are the person moving the units, and your fakers will disappear into the woodwork from whence they came.
Of course, even after "burning" your fakers this way, the persistent faker will continue to "smolder." This is done by simply adopting your personality and signature and claiming to actually be you. Some players even prefer to play this way (use other people's signatures) right off the bat, rather than wait to be "burned." Both methods are bothersome to the power being faked, and it is really up to you to decide which kind of aggravation you want to give him first. Why not both?
Well, that about wraps it up for this article and this series. It's been fun, and I hope that you, dear reader, have learned a trick or two about press along the way. Remember that good negotiations are the key to winning games, so don't wimp out on them. Unless you're playing against me, of course...